Advocacy News: May 30, 2023


May 30, 2023 | by Amber Smock

Illinois Legislative Session Update

Today, the Illinois legislative spring session comes to an end, and we’d like to update you on key disability-related efforts. 

We are thankful for all of our legislative allies, grassroots advocates, and community partners who have worked incredibly hard to make Illinois a better place for the disability community. Read on for the updates.

Yes, there is an Illinois budget! 

Very late last night, the Illinois Senate passed the state budget for the next fiscal year, and sent it to the Illinois House. The House will convene this afternoon, pass the budget, and adjourn. The budget totals over $50 billion in spending. We saw some wins, we saw a lot of preservation, and we saw some disappointments.

What are some of the key disability-related budgedt items? 

First, we’d like to celebrate the $7.5 million given for a home modifications program that will be coordinated by Centers for Independent Living (CILS). This has been an advocacy priority for Access Living and our CIL colleagues for a few years and it’s great to see this included.CIL state funding remained flat for the next fiscal year, which in an inflation environment is very disappointing. In order to serve more disabled folks who are hard to reach, the State needs to invest more in disability-led groups like CILs going forward.In developmental disabilities services, They Deserve More advocates won a $2.50 wage increase for Direct Service Professionals (DSPs). However, the goal was $4 per hour given the DSP workforce crisis, and advocates will be powering up to fight for more.For the state medical program for undocumented persons, further expansion will not happen this year and the State will focus on reining in costs through methods such as potentially requiring co-pays. This program’s cost was hotly disputed between the State and advocates.

Legislative Wins

Civil Rights Remedies Restoration Act: 

Access Living and partners were able to pass the Civil Rights Remedies Restoration Act, which restores the right to sue for monetary damages due to emotional distress based on protected class discrimination. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court took away that right in the Cummings decision. This new law in Illinois, once signed by the Governor, will restore this right for antidiscrimination laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

New Special Education Laws: 

  • We were able to pass SB 99, which will allow college students with disabilities in Illinois to use an IEP or 504 plan as proof of disability at public colleges and universities in Illinois.
  • We also helped pass HB 3224, which would ensure that dual credit opportunities are discussed in high school IEP meetings.
  • We also secured a commitment from the Illinois State Board of Education to provide guidance to Illinois schools on documenting informal school removals.

Healthcare Cultural Competency: 

HB 2280 passed, which will require healthcare professionals who have continuing education requirements to complete cultural competency training. This is important for improving healthcare to a range of groups, such as people with disabilities, LGBTQIA* persons, and immigrants.

Key Mental Health Bill Passes: 

Our colleagues in mental health also passed a bill to improve mental health parity expand access to mental health services. The Mental Health Equity Access & Prevention Act will allow individuals to see an out-of-network (OON) mental health provider at no additional cost until insurance plans have closed the disparity between mental health and physical health OON utilization by 50%. It also requires coverage of two prevention visits to a mental health professional or primary care physician.  

Where there’s more work to be done:

Dignity in Pay Act: 

Sadly, the Dignity in Pay Act, which would have created a phaseout process and support for ending the Illinois disability subminimum wage, simply ran out of time to get passed. An amazing tide of support was built between State leaders, providers, and community advocates, and we will continue to prioritize this important economic justice bill. 

Accessible Vote By Mail: 

Print disability advocates worked hard to get a fully accessible vote by mail process into the final elections omnibus package, but ultimately did not see this happen, due to concerns about whether electronic voting is subject to fraud. This was very disappointing, but the work will continue and Access Living will continue to support accessible voting for all. 

Again, we are thankful for all who worked to improve the lives of people with disabilities this spring. As usual, there will be lots more work ahead—advancing our issues that experienced challenges, and growing new initiatives. We hope you will take time this weekend to enjoy the beginning of summer, and return refreshed to pick up the work once again. Thank you Illinois!